Government suffers three Commons defeats before Brexit deal debate begins

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Theresa May’s Government suffered three humiliating Commons defeats in little more than an hour as she battled to keep her Brexit plans on track.

The Prime Minister appeared before MPs to begin five days of debate on her Brexit deal shortly after bowing to demands to publish the “final and full” legal advice given to Cabinet about it.

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom confirmed the U-turn over the legal advice after MPs decided her ministers were in “contempt” of Parliament.

A motion tabled by Labour, the SNP, other opposition parties and the DUP which argued ministers were in contempt due to their failure to fully publish advice given to Cabinet by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox was approved by 311 votes to 293, majority 18.

It also ordered the “immediate publication” of the legal advice.

Mrs Leadsom said: “We’ve tested the opinion of the House twice on this very serious subject.

“We’ve listened carefully and in light of the expressed will of the House we will publish the final and full advice provided by the Attorney General to Cabinet but recognising the very serious constitutional issues this raises I have referred the matter to the privileges committee to consider the implications of the humble address.”

MPs had earlier rejected a Government amendment to the motion, which Labour argued sought to kick the issue into the “long grass” until after the vote on the Brexit deal, by 311 votes to 307, majority four.

This amendment asked for the Committee of Privileges to question whether ministers were in contempt of Parliament over the issue and could have delayed any publication of the advice.

Tory former attorney general Dominic Grieve (Stefan Rousseau/PA)

The division list showed 25 Conservative MPs rebelled to support Mr Grieve’s amendment, including former ministers Sir Michael Fallon, Ken Clarke and Justine Greening.

The list also showed Tory MP Derek Thomas (St Ives) voted in both the ayes and noes, which is regarded as a formal abstention.

Four Labour MPs voted against the amendment.

They were Ronnie Campbell (Blyth Valley), Kate Hoey (Vauxhall), Dennis Skinner (Bolsover) and Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton).

On the contempt motion, the division list showed Tory MPs Peter Bone (Wellingborough) and Philip Hollobone (Kettering) supported it, along with nine DUP MPs.

Opening the debate on the Brexit deal, Mrs May said: “I know there are some in this House and in the country who would prefer a closer relationship with the European Union than the one I’m proposing, indeed who would prefer the relationship that we currently have and want another referendum.

“Although I profoundly disagree, they are arguing for what they believe is right for our country and I respect that, but the hard truth is that we will not settle this issue and bring our country together that way and I ask them to think what it would say to the 52% who came out to vote Leave in many cases for the first time in decades if their decision were ignored.”

The PM later said the Brexit debate had been “corrosive to our politics”.

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